Surprisingly poignant and fairly effective, Greenland is one of Gerard Butler’s more successful action outings. George Bell reviews.
Is Greenland the country where Gerard Butler collects his paychecks from the sheer number of bad films he had starred in? Turns out, much to my surprise, Greenland is his latest film and even more to my surprise, it isn’t actually that bad.
Greenland is an Amazon Original disaster film that follows John Garrity (Butler), his estranged wife (Morena Baccarin) and their son (Roger Dale Floyd) as they make a desperate escape for survival before an extinction-level comet hits Earth. Sure, it’s a concept that’s been done to death before, but Greenland succeeds in more ways than it really had a right to.
You’d expect from Butler’s track record, him and a disaster film seem like a recipe for, well, disaster. Fortunately it is anything but, and that’s all thanks to the smart decision to focus on family first, death and destruction second. The film trades in most of its cataclysmic CGI, of which there is some, for much more personal moments between the characters. You find yourself caring a lot more than you usually would in disaster films, which does bucket loads for the intensity of the film. At times you’ll find yourself edge of your seat fearing for whatever vaguely ludicrous situation the characters were in, which just goes to show that over-the-top action and destruction is second class compared to good writing.
The performances by Butler and Baccarin really lend themselves to the authenticity and realism of the characters. At times the chemistry is difficult to see, but this is explained by the struggling marriage between the two, a marriage that felt realistic thanks to some stellar writing you wouldn’t expect from a simple disaster flick.
While the writing and story were eons better than I could have ever hoped, a glaring issue kept cropping up which, to be honest, is not entirely the fault the film itself. An overarching theme of Greenland, and many films of this genre, is the chaos and anarchy of such an event, whereby laws are thrown to the wayside with everyone scrambling to survive. Mostly this trope is exercised well, lending to the stressful scenario. However in Greenland, there is a jarring juxtaposition between the chaos and the government which is portrayed as faultless, calm and the saving grace more than once. This seems out of place considering the current state of the world and increased scrutiny on US/UK governments’ poor handling of contemporary disaster. At times, the near-perfect handling of a situation is half hilarious and half depressing, making me wish for leadership even remotely as competent.
By focusing more on the characters than the disaster, it is clear there is less care towards the special effects. While not terrible, by modern standards, it leaves a lot to be desired and explains why we see so little of the destruction throughout the film’s two-hour runtime. The soundtrack and cinematography, while not bad, are also lacklustre, doing nothing really for the film. For the most part the camera sticks close to the family, leaving little room for imagination, but when it pulls back there are hints of some great creativity, perfectly capturing the chaos unfolding. If only there was more of it.
With less-than-stellar films like Gods of Egypt and Angel Has Fallen now behind him, this is a fresh start for Butler, showing that he isn’t a one trick pony for action films but a decent actor when given the right story to work with. Let’s just hope he’s a bit more selective with his films in future, or the next instalment in the Fallen franchise will be his career.
Greenland is a pleasant surprise, and while I didn’t expect to enjoy a disaster film in a year like this, it’s a perfect evening watch for when you want to turn your brain off and watch Gerard Butler do Gerard Butler things.
Greenland is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
Words by George Bell
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